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Feature
Anatomy Of An Opening Sequence: David Fincher’s Seven
Title designer Kyle Cooper talks through the iconic credits

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The opening sequence of Seven (or Se7en, if you’re pedantic), David Fincher’s sophomore feature, gave the director a double challenge. In short order, he needed to put behind him the bitter legacy of Alien 3 (or Alien³, if you’re really pedantic) and subvert the expectations of audiences who might have been anticipating Brad Pitt in full-on heartthrob mode or the Morgan Freeman who drove Miss Daisy. And he needed to do it in a little over two minutes. So he turned to title designer Kyle Cooper, a virtuoso but as yet inexperienced movie credit designer, to forge a black-as-midnight sequence that set the pitch, plot and characterisation for the noir thriller. Cooper leapt at the chance to frontload the film with John Doe-dosed menace. “I was really into horror movies when I was a kid,” he remembers, “and I used to get frustrated when they’d hold back the monster to the very end. It occurred to me to get an idea of the killer before they finally catch him. We wanted to get the audience curious about what this guy is going to be. He has to be super, super evil.”

What Cooper conjured up was one of the great title sequences. A stylised mash-up of scratched frames and fuzzed-up, glitchy graphics set to a remix of Nine Inch Nail’s Closer, it was shot over two days, taking a further, painstaking five weeks to cut together. It was deemed by the New York Times to be “One of the most important design innovations of the 1990s,” and has proved almost as influential as the film itself. Cooper has since gone on to design iconic credit sequences for Zach Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead, all three Spider-Man movies and The Mummy among many others, but Seven remains a broody, brutal cut above all its peers. “I think it came from Fincher’s ability to meditate on dark things and the anger I had at that time,” he reflects when Empire catches up with him. “Now I think of it as a bit of a playful dance. We were making a mess and having a good time doing it…”.

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The Idea

“Fincher initially came to me with an idea about Morgan Freeman taking a train ride from this gritty, dark, rainy city to a house out in the country that he wanted to buy for his retirement. He needed a temporary title sequence for a studio test screening, so we made this slide show using some of John Doe’s scrap books. It was just stills, and we used a hand-drawn type to suggest that Doe did the writing himself. David gave me the Nine Inch Nails music [Closer from 1994’s The Downward Spiral] and I cut the slideshow to that – just a series of stills. When he showed it to the studios, they said to him that he should use it for the main titles, but as he always does – and still does to this day – he was unwilling to comprise on any level. After the slideshow he said to me, 'Pretend we’ve never met and come back and propose something else.' What I proposed was an extension of the slides, where I photographed all of the books and we made some of our own. Once he bought into that tabletop idea, he wanted Mark Romanek to direct it, because he liked Mark’s video for Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, which was all burnt film and rollouts. But I told him I wanted to do it and he agreed."

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